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Pancreas function tests

The pancreas has a role in the body's production of insulin, and problems affecting the pancreas include pancreatic cancer and acute pancreatitis.

A number of tests are used to diagnose problems with the pancreas, including:

Blood tests

Blood tests can evaluate the function of the gall bladder, liver, and pancreas. Levels of the pancreatic enzymes amylase and lipase can be measured. Blood tests can also check for signs of related conditions including infection, anaemia (low number of red blood cells), and dehydration.

Direct pancreatic function test

This test measures the ability of the pancreas to respond to hormones that normally stimulate the pancreas to release a fluid that neutralises stomach acid and aids in digestion. The hormones secretin or cholecystokinin are given and the ability of the pancreas to respond is measured.

This test may be performed to determine the activity of the pancreas in people with diseases known to affect the pancreas (for example, cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cancer) or nutritional disorders that might be due to pancreatic disease.

During the test, a health care professional places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the upper part of the small intestine. The hormone is administered and the contents of the duodenal secretions are aspirated (removed with suction) and analysed over a period of about two hours.

Faecal elastase test

The faecal elastase test is another test of pancreas function. The test measures the levels of elastase, an enzyme found in fluids produced by the pancreas. Elastase digests (breaks down) proteins.

In this test, a patient's stool sample is analysed for the presence of elastase.

CT scan with contrast dye

This imaging test can help assess the health of the pancreas. A CT scan can identify complications of pancreatic disease such as fluid around the pancreas, an enclosed infection - abscess - or a collection of tissue, fluid and pancreatic enzymes (pancreatic pseudocyst).

Abdominal ultrasound

An abdominal ultrasound can detect gallstones that might block the outflow of fluid from the pancreas. It also can show an abscess or a pancreatic pseudocyst.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

In an ERCP, a doctor places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the small intestine. Dye is used to help the doctor see the structure of the common bile duct, other bile ducts, and the pancreatic duct on an X-ray.

Endoscopic ultrasound

In this test, a probe attached to a long, thin, lighted, flexible tube is placed down the throat and into the stomach. Sound waves show images of organs in the abdomen. Endoscopic ultrasound may reveal gallstones and can be helpful in diagnosing severe pancreatitis when an invasive test such as ERCP might make the condition worse.

Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography

This kind of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to look at the bile ducts and the pancreatic duct.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 27, 2016

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